I have long been interested in the question of psychological profiling for two particular reasons. First, as a Personnel Manager working in a blue-chip manufacturing company, psychological profiling and psychometric testing were a stock in trade. In recruiting people for our National Office, I used a US-developed psychological profiling interview which looked for traits that appeared important to the best of our existing staff. Intriguingly, they had done work for the US Roman Catholic Church, so when I announced I was leaving, they offered to take me through the process they had developed. Apparently I would have been quite a good Catholic priest!
Secondly, I remember very clearly the time during my own ordination training when we were introduced to Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (as many ordinands still are). Apart from the controversy and the emotions generated when people discovered that they did not appear as they thought they would, my abiding memory is standing in the large space of the chapel, cleared of chairs, as we each moved to one of the 16 squares indicated by out Myers-Briggs profile. The reason it stands out in my memory is that, as an ENTJ, I wasn’t alone in being an iNtuitive, but watched as all the Introverts, Feelers and Perceivers headed off to huddle together in one cosy corner—while I marched, alone, to the other side of the room.
So I was intrigued to read in the Church Times of new research by Leslie Francis and Greg Smith about the changing profile of Anglican clergy who are recently ordained. It is immediately worth qualifying any use of such profile for several reasons. Some object to the fact that the MBTI appears to be based on a Jungian understanding of archetypes (an idea that gets distinctly odd when you delve into it), and that is can function as a way to put people into boxes—at times literally, as in the case of our chapel experience! My other observation is that life is just a little more complex, and people are more adaptable, than the process suggests—and that over time the differences are less important than when we are younger. Nevertheless, I know a good many people for whom the process has been a really important step in growing self awareness, and particularly in understanding the nature of their interactions with others who are different from them. And previous work by Leslie Francis has yielded some intriguing insights—such as his work (using his own profiling system) highlighting the differences in personalities from one church tradition to another.
It is also worth noting that any comment about cohorts and trends is not a criticism of individuals with those profiles. Whatever our ‘preference’ as suggested by psychological type, we always need to make allowances for self awareness and critical reflection to mean that we can act in ways other than that suggested. Psychological type is not a form of social predestination!
I have not had the chance to read the original research paper (which needs to be done) but three things stood out for me from the Church Times report.
The first was the tendency amongst the recently ordained to focus on detail, rather than on the bigger picture.
In relation to psychological type, the study reports that its main finding is that “the current generation of young stipendiary male curates is much less likely to prefer intuition compared with clergymen in the 2007 study (42 per cent compared with 62 per cent)”.
The study defines clergy who prefer intuition as those who “focus on the possibilities of a situation, perceiving meaning and relationships”, and who “focus on the overall picture, rather than specific facts and data”. Such clergy “follow their inspirations enthusiastically”, and “often aspire to bring innovative change to established conventions and have less patience with tradition”.
The curates ordained in 2009 and 2010 were more likely to be at the “sensing” end of the spectrum: those who “focus on the realities of a situation, and on specific details, rather than the overall picture. They tend to be down-to-earth and matter-of-fact. They are frequently fond of the traditional and conventional.”
It seems to me that this is entirely explicable, perhaps thought of as necessary, but also has its challenges. It is entirely explicable because we are living in a culture which is becoming extraordinarily bureaucratic in just about every realm—most notably in the two great arenas of public debate, healthcare and education. My wife reckons she needs to do an hour more each day of admin and paperwork than she did ten years ago, and any teacher will tell you about the administration and bureaucracy that is needed, which is often felt to detract from the core tasks of teaching. And clergy don’t appear to be immune from this. Added to that, we live in a risk averse world, not least in the wake of safeguarding scandals. One of the great potential prizes for the practice of ministry would be the centralisation of form filling at a diocesan or national level—but there are significant ideological objections, based in either the perceived autonomy of clergy or the independence of dioceses, which prevent or discourage this. (I am told that the Church of England cannot do centralised personnel planning because these is no obvious mechanism for obtaining and collating information from dioceses!)
In many areas of practical parochial ministry, it seems you need to have a lawyer’s attention to detail to ensure you implement practice and policy correctly. If you are in an urban, gathered church which can afford administrative staff, you might be protected from this. But rural and estate ministry often does not enjoy this luxury. And such a focus does not lead to innovative and dynamic community building. As Francis and Smith observe:
The Church of the future may be a more tightly managed and more conservative Church, but less inspirational and less responsive to transformation.
The problem here is that there is fairly widespread agreement that a step-change in culture is needed for the Church at the moment—away from being inward looking to being much more invitational, and away from being concerned with self-preservation (the fatal instinct in those implicated in safe-guarding failures) to make bold change—something that the SDF church plants have in fact been delivering.
This leads to the second observation—that of institutional conformity. The report here shifts from drawing on MBTI to making use of Francis’ own profiling categories.
The proportion of clergy with an Apollonian (intuiting/feeling) temperament (“idealistic and romantic”; “inspiring communicators”; “good . . . pastoral counselling techniques”) fell from 35 per cent in the 2007 study to 19 per cent among the 2009/10 clergy. A similar trend can be seen in the sample of women curates.
“The move from the Apollonian temperament to the Epimethean temperament . . . may carry implications for the future character and identity of the Church of England,” the authors write. “The Church of the future may be a more tightly managed and more conservative Church, but less inspirational and less responsive to transformation.
The key question here is: what kind of ‘conservative’. I think it is difficult to over-estimate the pressures driving people towards institutional conformity, particularly in the early years of ministry. Through the selection process (which might last two years or more from first exploration), through pre-ordination training (two or three years) and right through curacy (three or four years), the ordinand is entirely dependent on the good opinion of those who are assessing him or her. This could mean nearly a decade when one of the primarily psychological challenges is to conform and not to be seen as ‘difficult’. Even those with freehold or common tenure depend on the bishop whose licence they hold when the time comes to move post. I know very well (not least from correspondence with individuals) that to challenge the person whose license you hold on some matter of doctrine or practice demands a very high threshold of confidence—which might be good for the sanity of the bishop concerned, but means that those who do will tend to be eccentric, or limited to those who plan to stay in post indefinitely and so believe they have nothing to lose.
This concern with institutional conformity sits, paradoxically, alongside a concern for ‘diversity’ which means that issue of doctrinal agreement seem to take a back seat. I was recently involved in a fascinating discussion about Birmingham biblical scholar Michael Goulder. Goulder once commented:
With all its weaknesses, the Church of England is an association of good people, bound together by a noble ideal. Because of its weakness it is not tempted to strive for power over its members… The Anglican Church has an honourable tradition of honesty and liberalism, and I have always belonged to it at heart. It is only the intellectual problems which forced me to leave it, and I have never regretted that decision.
I commented in response:
I think it is an empty comment to make any observation about accommodating ‘liberalism’, since the nature of liberalism is constantly changing. At one time it might mean rejecting penal substitution, at another it means being sceptical about the whole NT and rejecting any realist notion of God. If he thought the C of E was virtuously open to all ideas, then all its confessions are meaningless.
To which Mark Goodacre, well-known NT scholar who studied under Goulder, commented:
Well, that’s why he left it in the end. He was criticized by some Anglican colleagues for that move, people who thought you could be in the church without believing in God, but Michael found that dishonest.
I think Francis and Smith, rightly understood, are warning us of the dangers of institutional conformity that masks what Goulder called an intellectual dishonesty.
I wonder whether this is related to recent trend in photos of jumping ordinands. At one level, this is just a bit of fun—but the paradox here is the (institutionally driven?) need to look ‘normal’ and ‘accessible’ whilst wearing mediaeval garb. There is nothing quite like distinctive clothing to set you apart from those around you—which at one level can be useful in standing out and being identifiable. But it is the most obvious way in which the culture of the Church is completely out of step with modernity’s intellectual and social construction. Distinctive styles of dress to match ethnic or status identity has been common in history, and is still the case in many parts of the world (I remember Quranic students dress in white robes on the streets of Morocco earlier in the year). But it is a key cultural difference in Western culture. Why has there been a proliferation of episcopal garb, including the wearing of mitres, when these things are not historically Anglican, and contradict all the impulses to be ‘relevant’? Because, even for bishops, defying expectations of institutional conformity is very demanding.
The study concludes: “Within a Church that is managing decline, and doing so with increasingly overstretched resources, reliance on the Epimethean temperament may be a wise and cautious strategy. Here are leaders who will not rock the boat and who will offer a sense of security during palliative care. Indeed, the extraverts among them may well stimulate some growth by preaching a straightforward gospel of certain truth appealing to fellow SJs.”
Would that we had more leaders who would rock the boat—but in a way other than questioning or defying the teaching of the Church!
There is here, though, more than a hint of hope. I don’t want to offer an insidious value judgement about the relative merits of an individual being introvert rather than extravert. But one of the consistent features of Anglican clergy is that they have been notably more introverted than their congregations and society as a whole. This can make the investment in communal relationships much more emotionally demanding, but research suggests that (surprise, surprise!) a sense of a warm and welcoming community is a key element of a healthy, and so growing (in every sense) church community. If the proportion of extraverts who are able to contribute to this with less personal demand is growing, then that might be a good thing.
One final thought. I am all for good analysis of both ministry and mission. But in a complex world, is there a way of recovering the simplicity of ministry and flourishes and is life-giving? The two things that, in my experience, most Christians (and would-be Christians) are looking for: a genuine sense that they are loved and cared for; and a compelling vision of God’s grace and action. Good pastoral care, and dynamic preaching, are surely the foundations for a healthy church and the goals of healthy ministry.
Is anything more needed?
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